How to get started in healthy living — part 1

How to lead a healthy lifestyle

Never before has there been so much talk about healthy living. The newspapers are packed with stories about the latest dangers and hazards to our health — from mobile phones to sugar, mercury fillings to artificial sweeteners, and genetically-modified foods to noise pollution. The headlines can leave you feeling confused and overwhelmed — and above all, powerless.

But in reality, choosing to live a healthier lifestyle is a choice that any of us can make. It’s not about reacting to the latest scare story, banning certain foods or products from your life and adopting an extreme, all-or-nothing approachit’s about balance and moderation. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about being a little more health aware, and doing the best you can on a daily basis. After all, it’s not what you do for the next seven days that’s going to affect your health for the next seven years; it’s what you do for the next seven years!

The health jigsaw

You could view healthy living as a jigsaw puzzle — made up of many different pieces, all crucial to the finished picture — but all of different shapes and sizes. If one piece is missing entirely, the overall picture isn’t complete. For example, you could be a fitness fanatic who eats healthily and never drinks alcohol — but you haven’t found a way of coping with the high levels of stress your job brings — and you can’t remember the last time you went for a health check. Or you could be someone bursting with energy, who survives on four hours sleep a night, thrives on stress and never gets ill — but who lives on junk food and caffeine.

While there are quite obviously some pieces missing in these jigsaws, scenarios such as this are far from unusual. For example, while you may be debating whether to have your mercury fillings removed, are you taking the simple step of flossing daily to look after your dental health? As many as 23 per cent of women between 30 and 54 have severe gum (periodontal) disease, according to the American Academy of Periodontology, which, as well as being the leading cause of tooth loss, has been linked to heart disease, premature births and chronic inflammation in the body.

Big health issues

Evidently, we sometimes aren’t seeing the wood for the trees — we’re worrying about the little things (should I drink normal coke or diet coke?) while ignoring the bigger issues. According to the Sleep Council, for example, 20 million people in the UK — that’s roughly a third — don’t get enough sleep, and two thirds claim that stress is a major factor in their lives.

We’re missing a few jigsaw pieces on the healthy diet front, too. While the UK’s average daily fruit and vegetable intake is three piecessignificantly less than the minimum recommended intake of five per dayresearch from the Office for National Statistics shows that 17 per cent of adult women drink over the recommended 14 units per week, while over a third of men drink above recommended levels.

But while we are glugging down the booze, many of us aren’t drinking enough water. Research by the Lucozade Sport Science Institute found that around 50 per cent of people hit the gym in a dehydrated state(and that’s before they’ve even started their workout!). At least they’ve managed to get to the gym, though56 per cent of men and 70 per cent of women aged 16 to 54 in the UK fail to reach the recommended levels of physical activity for health benefits. While 10,000 steps per day is the Holy Grailsufficient to reduce you risk of heart disease, aid weight loss and improve musculoskeletal healtha report in the journal Sports Medicine found that less than 5,000 is more typical for the average Brit.

A positive attitude to healthy living

 Fascinatingly, our health isn’t just about what we do with our lives, it’s also about how we think, too. In 2002, researchers at the Mayo Clinic in the United States found that optimistic people decreased their risk of early death by 50 per cent compared with those with a less positive outlook. How? The researchers speculate that it’s likely to be to do with pessimists having a greater risk of future problems with their physical health, emotional stress and career achievements — along with possible changes in their immune systems.

With the wrong outlook, you could see the healthy living jigsaw as an overwhelming, unachievable challenge. How can you possibly manage to put ticks in all those ‘health’ boxes? But look again, and you’ll see that the fact that there are so many pieces means that there are countless ways you can make small changes in your life, which will have a big impact on your health and How to get started in healthy livingpart 2 shows you how to do exactly that …

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